How to transform the streets of New York

by Andrea Maioli on 10/30/2013

I’ve just come home from a research trip to the United States, and New York and San Francisco in particular. Beyond improving my English, I wanted to get to know American culture from the inside, to better understand the source of that fascination we feel watching movies shot in Hollywood.

So I’d like to share with you the factors I find most interesting for people trying to do business in other parts of the world, especially in information technology.

I’ll start with some inspiration from how the concept of a street is transforming in New York. Janette Sadik-Khan, Commissioner of the Department of Transportation, explains the experiment and the results it achieved in this TED Talk.

It was interesting to see how they approached the problem of roads in Times Square, where a temporary pedestrian area was set up for six months. A great deal of data was collected during that time, checking whether or not mobility improved, if traffic became chaotic, if it was safer, and if business grew nearby (the public in NY also considers the private: scandal!).

In the end, the results were truly positive according to all the KPIs studied, so the changes were made permanent. Among other things, the stores are now in charge of upkeep for the pedestrian area, and having increased sales they’re happy to do it, so it’s costing the public nothing.

Janette ends her talk this way: “The lesson that we’ve had in New York is that it’s possible to change your streets quickly, it’s not expensive, it can provide immediate benefits, and it can be quite popular. You just need to reimagine your streets; they’re hidden in plain sight.”

I think this advice is interesting even to entrepreneurs about their own way of doing business: we can’t be afraid of experimenting with new routes, testing hard data to see which ones are the best. Even a winning business model doesn’t last forever and can be innovated; I wouldn’t wait for the next crisis to do so.

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